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Interview with Henry Tay - Finalist for General Manager of the Year

Can you give us a brief insight into your education and career path?

I obtained my Bachelor Degree of Business Administration, from the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, before starting my hospitality career in Hong Kong. I spent the next 11 years between the JW Marriott Hong Kong, which was the first Marriott Hotel in Asia Pacific at the time, before later being recruited by Island Shangri-La Hong Kong. Working for these two international hotel chains gave me experiences that put my feet firmly on the ground in my earlier years. Since then I have been with Starwood and IHG; I even did a 4-year project with a famous Shenzhen Theme Park, developing and managing a cluster of eight hotels.

In 2012, I decided to rejoin the international hotel arena. I was eager to take on an international hotel property as General Manager, so in 2013 I joined AccorHotels as the GM of the Pullman Beijing West Wanda. Through my successes in this first assignment, I was then hand-picked to join the Sofitel Brand, by Mr. Michel Molliet, VP of Sofitel China at the time, now COO of AccorHotels Greater China.

Thereafter, I went on to manage two Sofitel properties and had the opportunity over the three and a half years with AccorHotels, to complete three different missions, in three properties, each in a different city. AccorHotels provided me with a platform to realize my potential to lead as well as rebuilding teams that can achieve results.

During the peak of my time at Sofitel, Mr. Bahram Sepahi, the Regional Vice President of Greater China for Four Seasons, approached me with an opportunity to be trained for a GM position at Four Seasons. Long story short, I accepted the career plan and in the meantime, I am honored to be the Hotel Manager of Four Seasons Guangzhou as of September 2016. It is a beautiful flagship hotel for Four Seasons in Greater China. Sometimes, one needs to take a step back before you can move forward.

I am now working directly under Mr. Sepahi’s leadership at Four Seasons. Mr Sepahi was awarded by The BMW Hotelier Awards as the General Manager of the Year in 2014 and thus I am very lucky to be working alongside him. There is no better way to learn the Four Seasons culture in a short period of time, than from this gentleman.


Can you share with us what you feel has been the most valuable part in your career development to date that has enabled you to get to where you are today?

I think the most valuable part of my career so far, is the new level of career path that I have just embarked on so far with Four Seasons. As I mentioned earlier, the 3.5 years with AccorHotels taught me how to handle many different and challenging situations. I had some very challenging KPIs to achieve whilst at AccorHotels and it was crucial I recruited the right talents to be successful. There were some very tough targets to achieve, and it is this survival experience that will go a long way with me into the next chapter of my career. In my humble opinion, revenue and profit are the only by products of success.

Among my fundamental survival skills, is the ability to place the right people in the right job and bringing out the best in them. Over the years I have solidified my approach to recruiting the best people. I use a mixture of a personality survey, to gain some understanding of that individual, their professional profile and a face to face interview. This gives a great overview of the candidate and allows you to see if they would suit the role. Once I’ve found the right talents, I will gauge their progress and see which level of delegation is appropriate. I never micromanage, it kills a person’s initiative. I empower the capable ones, and unleash their potential to the fullness. Some times there are hits and misses along the way but this is ok as long as you learn from it. Getting to know your colleagues and recognizing their strengths so you can cultivate them further, is key. When they succeed with quantifiable and honest results, I am very happy and proud of them. As their leader, I also share the glory and successes with them and in the past few years I have been able to continually improve my approach.further solidified my approach.


Congratulations on being a finalist in The BMW Hotelier Awards 2016. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?

Thank you very much. I’m already truly honored to be among the eight finalists to compete for The BMW Hotelier Awards 2016, for the Greater China region. I believe, this recognition so far, has already painted a picture of success to the younger generation who have worked with me and know me, besides the good financial results.

While management is crucial, leadership is paramount. One cannot succeed alone. Often an organization will have too many managers, but not enough leaders to make a difference! The younger generation however, needs to learn to be a manager first, and then to be an effective leader. The transition can be tricky. Managers manage tasks, leaders lead people. A skilled leader will know who to delegate to, what to delegate and how to delegate, while multitasking at the same time.

As an expatriate in China, I see myself on a mission to show the younger hoteliers in the field how things should be done in an honest and professional manner. I hope that my career prospects will be something that they can look up to. The recognition by Four Seasons at this stage of my career is one of the best things that has happened to me. I hope to inspire them to work hard and work smart. It is my team that I have worked with and their knowledge that has got me to where I am today.

At this time in my career, I am taking a different turn. After 8 years as GM I am moving into the Hotel Manager role with Four Seasons Guangzhou, a flagship property in China. I have received an overwhelming amount of support and congratulations from my friends and peers. While there were a few doubts, I believe I am making the right move. These days I see the younger generation of the hotel industry have little patience to work their way up; scaling back is almost unthinkable to them. Title often means a great deal to people, but I hope if there is one thing I can advise; allow yourselves a little more time at each level and learn the trade before taking on the next step, particularly when it comes to managerial or leadership roles. Don’t switch jobs too often just because the next door offers a better title with higher pay. More consideration is needed. Right or wrong often impacts the final outcome of a career move, but don’t leave it entirely to luck!

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